April 29, 2013
By Cicely Gosier
With part of the parking lot gone and a rerouted entrance, it’s evident Sherwood Baptist is doing a little remodeling.
Temporary trailers and chain link fences will greet visitors for a while as the movie-making church takes time to revamp its children’s areas.
But the building project isn’t the only construction underway for this Albany, Ga., congregation. After Sunday’s visit from Jim Wood, mobilization director for My Hope America with Billy Graham, members are ready to be part of some relationship building as well.
“How could we possibly be satisfied to believe the Gospel is true – that people who don’t know Jesus are going to hell – and not be willing to connect the dots and connect with people?” Wood asked from Sherwood’s pulpit.
“That’d be like watching your neighbor’s house burn down and say, ‘I think they’re in there. I bet they’re just going to be roasted alive. That’s a shame. Somebody really ought to do something,’ ” he continued. “You’d have to be a monster!”
But to Wood, that is precisely what Christians do by standing by as others self-destruct. And that challenge is what’s driving My Hope America, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s latest nationwide evangelism project.
Participants – called “Matthews” – are encouraged to reach out to those who don’t know Christ, just as the disciple Matthew did in the New Testament. They’ll pray for and develop relationships with those people between now and November, when My Hope America culminates with a video presentation of a Gospel message by Billy Graham in Matthew homes.
“My Hope is going to let us know if our churches really care about lost people or we just talk about it,” said Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist. “Whether we’re going to engage our friends we say we’re concerned about or whether we’re just going to talk about them.”
Wood echoed the stance of putting the church into action.
“It’s not their job to do this so you don’t have to,” he said, referring to church leaders. “We are the body of Christ and it’s our job to live so close to the Lord that our faith is contagious.”
Ken Bevel starred in two of Sherwood’s movies: “Courageous” and “Fireproof.” Having never acted before, he knows about stepping outside his comfort zone. And it’s that leap of faith that Bevel is hoping people will take to participate in My Hope America.
“There are a lot of people that were sitting in the congregation and probably wanted to sign up that said, ‘I don’t know if I can invite someone into my home and tell them about the Gospel,’ or ‘I haven’t studied enough,’” Bevel said.
But for that, his solution is simple: “Don’t worry about it.”
“Allow the Lord to do the work,” Bevel explained. “Have confidence in the Gospel and not in yourself.”
Bevel and some of the other church leaders wore nametags and earpieces as they sat in the sanctuary and listened to Wood talk about My Hope America.
The “official” appearance can seem daunting to some. But when asked what My Hope America means to him, Associate Pastor John Spencer proved that underneath it all are compassionate people committed to God’s eternal construction in Heaven.
“We have a neighbor that my kids have prayed for since they were little,” he said, choking up with emotion. “And I want to see him saved.”
“I have other neighbors,” Spencer added. “I don’t want to sit in my house, in my neighborhood, and never let them know the hope that I have.”
“They need to know,” he said. “So my hope for My Hope is to see my neighborhood changed because people come to Christ.”
Pastor Catt set a goal for his church to have 150 “Matthew homes” by November. But by the time Sunday school was over April 28, they’d already passed that goal with more than 200 names on the sign-up list.
Now that his congregation is on board, Catt plans to write a letter to other Southern Baptist churches letting them know about My Hope America.
“It’s one thing to say we care about a lost world, and we care where people will be for eternity,” Catt said. “It’s another thing to say, ‘I’m willing to get out of my comfort zone and invite people in my home who I may’ve never shared Christ with but have lived next to for 30 years.’
“Now is the time, and this is the opportunity to do that.”